Every four years, presidential candidates and media descend on Iowa’s capital. But any local will tell you: This town is transforming way too fast for only a quadrennial visit.
St. Kilda toast
Credit: Jason Donnelly

My Perfect Day

My best days start with a La Mie croissant. Hike it off at nearby Greenwood Park, the leafy home to the Des Moines Art Center. After braking for charcuterie at Cheese Bar, keep driving to downtown's East Village for shopping—I always need to expand my Raygun tee collection! Finally, have dinner (and lava cake) at Alba before a show at the Des Moines Civic Center.

Free and Fab

The new Lauridsen Skatepark is the country's biggest public skate park—stroll by and watch the stunts from the Principal Riverwalk.

Where to Eat

Proving our point that Des Moines is worth visiting more than once every four years, all these hot spots opened since the 2020 caucuses. For breakfast (Friday–Sunday), order a lox-on-latkes eggs Benny at Jewish-ish diner Little Brother. Hit Lachele's Fine Foods for a smash-style burger lunch. The dinner menu at Fresko lists braised short ribs and also sushi and also tacos—an eclectic mix that works. End the night with a patio cocktail at Secret Admirer or a scoop of Oatmeal Cream Pie at Drake neighborhood haunt Black Cat Ice Cream.

A pivot point in Des Moines' evolving food scene? St. Kilda, which opened in 2017 preaching a gospel of fancy toasts and photogenic stoneware. The DSM brunch scene has never looked back.

Bucket List

Downtown Farmers' Market

Vendors fill Court Avenue and several cross streets, a spectacle that draws as many as 25,000 on Saturdays. Try an almond-filled Dutch letter, the signature treat of nearby Pella (a day-trip destination in its own right).

The Capitol

The gold-dome Statehouse perches on a hill downtown. Take a tour to the whispering gallery, and hunt for the quirky glass case of first lady dolls wearing inauguration ball gowns(and the current first gentleman—in his tux).

Des Moines Arts Center
Credit: Rich Sander/Courtesy of The Des Moines Art Center

Des Moines Art Center

As you take in the museum's art, take note of the buildings, too. Each wing of this free museum has a distinct vibe and hails from the mind of a different 20th-century architect—I.M. Pei, Eliel Saarinen, and Richard Meier.

Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden

Locals love to escape into the steamy tropics of the garden's domed conservatory in winter, but you get more bang for your buck in warmer months, with outdoor gardens and water features too. (The garden's Trellis Cafe is a great lunch spot.)

Principal Park

Home to the minor league baseball Iowa Cubs, this ballpark has family-friendly features and is walkable from many downtown hotels, restaurants and bars.

It's a Date!

Wrapping around the spacious Pappajohn Sculpture Park, the Des Moines Arts Festival showcases diverse artists from across the country(June 23–25, 2023).

Family Hits


The menu at Eatery A doesn't scream family joint, but the happy hour deals for pizza, beer and wine are a steal. Kids can order a plain cheese while adults share a chorizo-pineapple-jalapeño or lamb gyro pizza.


Highlights of Blank Park Zoo include underwater sea lion viewing, an African boardwalk and a walk-through Australia exhibit where bouncy wallabies may cut you off on the path.

Budget Pick

Burn off steam at Union Park on the city's east side. Kids can run between a splash pad, swings, the towering old-school rocket slide and a carousel with 50-cent tickets. (Then cross Saylor Road for a patty melt and tots at Captain Roy's, a chill riverside bar with lots of picnic tables.)

Pappajohn Sculpture Park dowtown Des Moines
Credit: Anna Brunson

Photo Op

If you didn't 'gram Pappajohn Sculpture Park, were you really here?

Republic on Grand at AC Hotel
Credit: Courtesy of The Republic on Grand

Where to Stay

A rooftop bar and restaurant, The Republic on Grand crowns the AC Hotel Des Moines East Village, a stylish Marriott property that's walkable to shopping and dining.